Of all the hymn texts penned by reformed slave trader and English clergyman John Newton, his most famous is undoubtedly Amazing Grace. First published in the book Olney Hymns (1779), Amazing Grace was just one of around 200 hymns by Newton that made its début. Another particularly beautiful hymn – based on Song of Solomon 1:3 – appeared in the book with the title The Name of Christ. Like Amazing Grace, The Name of Christ has also stood the test of time but today’s hymnals typically publish it with only four of Newton’s original seven stanzas and call it by its first line: How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.
The Olney Hymns was a compilation book of hymns written by John Newton and poet William Cowper (known for There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood). Newton and Cowper wrote a new hymn text each week to be sung at weekly prayer services at Olney Parish in Buckinghamshire, England where Newton served as a curate for sixteen years.
That’s a lot of hymn texts!
Newton crafted his texts to be sung with hymn tunes already familiar to his congregation. But in 1861, Hymns Ancient and Modern published How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds with a newer tune, ST. PETER, composed by English organist Alexander R. Reinagle. It was a stroke of pure genius. Reinagle’s simple tune was a perfect match for Newton’s heartfelt text and today ST. PETER is the tune most often sung with How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.
I discovered How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds only in the last few years but fell in love with it immediately. Both soothing and beautiful, I thought it would make a lovely, gentle piano arrangement. I kept most of the arrangement simple and subdued, with only a small climax near the end, so it would be useful for the more meditative times during church services, funerals, and memorial services. Enjoy!